52 Im­prove Your Per­for­mance With Ev­ery Breath

Get­ting oxy­gen to your work­ing mus­cles is the most nat­u­ral thing in the world, but with the right train­ing you can boost your per­for­mance with ev­ery breath you take

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

By train­ing your­self to breathe bet­ter you’ll be able to go longer and harder with less ef­fort

You’re stand­ing out­side wait­ing for a GPS lock. You haven’t taken a step, but in your brain a prepa­ra­tion process has al­ready been trig­gered. ‘Your res­pi­ra­tory cen­tre is found in an area of the brain called the hy­po­thal­a­mus,’ says Dr John Dick­in­son, Head of the Res­pi­ra­tory Clinic at the Uni­ver­sity of Kent. ‘It knows when you’re about to ex­er­cise, so you’ll un­con­sciously start breath­ing slightly faster and more deeply, and cap­il­lar­ies will start to di­late in an­tic­i­pa­tion of car­ry­ing more oxy­gen.’

As you set off, you need to con­sider how to help this nat­u­ral re­sponse work ef­fec­tively. ‘Start­ing slowly is key to al­low­ing th­ese pro­cesses to build up, rather than shock­ing the sys­tem,’ says Paul Hough, Lead Sport and Ex­er­cise Sci­en­tist at St Mary’s Uni­ver­sity Sports Per­for­mance Ser­vice (stmarys.ac.uk).

Manag­ing your early ef­fort to al­low your sys­tem the time to kick in is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant if you’re a new run­ner, or re­build­ing your fit­ness after a lay­off. ‘The fit­ter you get, the quicker your oxy­gen ki­net­ics will kick in at the be­gin­ning of a run,’ says Dick­in­son. ‘This means that the shift be­tween rest and pro­duc­ing enough en­ergy aer­o­bi­cally will be quicker, so the breath­less dis­com­fort that comes at the be­gin­ning of a run will be over with more quickly.’

If you’re pay­ing at­ten­tion as you start to run you’ll no­tice a shift in how you breathe. At rest, you breathe pri­mar­ily through your nose, but very soon into a run ‘you switch to mouth breath­ing, as it’s the eas­i­est way to draw in air’, says Dick­in­son. Al­though this de­liv­ers more air to your lungs, there is a down­side: When you nose-breathe at rest, air is warmed and hu­mid­i­fied by your nose, but breath­ing through your mouth dur­ing ex­er­cise by­passes this process. This can cause prob­lems, es­pe­cially in win­ter. ‘Dry, cold air can be dam­ag­ing to the air­ways be­cause the nose can’t do its nor­mal job of warm­ing/ hu­mid­i­fy­ing,’ says Dick­in­son. ‘This means the lower air­ways in the lungs have to do it, which can lead to ir­ri­ta­tion.’ Over a long pe­riod, if you’re ge­net­i­cally sus­cep­ti­ble and con­sis­tently run in very cold air, this could cause per­ma­nent dam­age to the lungs.

If it’s truly Arc­tic out­side, con­sider wear­ing a scarf or ban­dana loosely across your face. ‘This warms the air be­fore it goes down into your air­ways and also cap­tures the moist breath com­ing out, which then hu­mid­i­fies the air go­ing in,’ says Dick­in­son. ‘You can also avoid early runs in re­ally cold con­di­tions. The freez­ing, dry air of early morn­ing will warm up and be­come moister later.’ RHYTHM AND POWER As your run pro­gresses, your breaths be­come more fre­quent and your heart rate rises. Your mus­cles now have a greater need for oxy­gen to fa­cil­i­tate the con­ver­sion of carbs or fat into en­ergy, and as the heart and lungs are re­spon­si­ble for de­liv­er­ing this oxy­gen, they have to work harder. ‘At rest, your lungs will be tak­ing in 10-12 litres of air per minute. When you run, de­pend­ing on how big you are and how fast you’re run­ning, this in­creases by four to eight times,’ says Ali­son Mccon­nell, Pro­fes­sor of Ex­er­cise Sci­ence at Bournemouth Uni­ver­sity and au­thor of Breathe­strong, Per­form­bet­ter (Hu­man Ki­net­ics).

As things start to feel harder, breath­ing in rhythm can con­trol the reg­u­lar­ity and depth of your breath­ing, im­prov­ing its ef­fi­ciency and, in turn, boost­ing per­for­mance and low­er­ing your per­cep­tion of ef­fort. ‘Break each phase of the breath into a num­ber of foot­strikes,’ says Mccon­nell. ‘For ex­am­ple, be­gin your in­hale on your left foot strike, con­tinue it through the right foot­strike, then ex­hale in the same pat­tern. You can ex­per­i­ment with what’s com­fort­able for you. This not

Di­aphrag­matic-breath­ing ex­er­cises

Prac­tise th­ese ex­er­cises from sports physio Je­han Ye­hia daily, at rest. The tech­nique will trans­fer to your run­ning.

01/ Place a hand on the base of your ribs and breathe in. Breath deeply from the lower ribs up­wards, ex­pand­ing the lower ribs and ab­domen. You should feel the base of your ribs and ab­domen ex­pand­ing, not the front of your chest.

02/ Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Arch your lower back up­wards, then flat­ten it into the floor, and then find a neu­tral po­si­tion be­tween the two. Take three deep breaths, feel­ing your lower ribs and ab­domen ex­pand, then ‘rest’ with three nor­mal breaths. Re­peat, this time hold­ing each breath for a cou­ple of sec­onds be­fore ex­hal­ing.

In­spi­ra­tory-mus­cle ex­er­cise

Once you’ve mas­tered good di­aphrag­matic breath­ing, try in­spi­ra­tory-mus­cle train­ing (IMT). ‘Run­ning strength­ens the di­aphragm, but you don’t get the re­sults you get with in­spi­ra­tory train­ing,’ says Sharpe. The most ac­ces­si­ble method is a de­vice such as a Power­breathe (power­breathe.com), which has a valve that pro­vides re­sis­tance as you in­hale.

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